Review: Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island
With seemingly more 5-star resorts in immediate proximity to each other than anywhere else on the planet, it’s fairly inarguable at this point that we UAE residents are boundlessly spoilt when it comes to staycation options.
Yet (at the risk of sounding insufferably jaded) as anyone who’s been to a half- decent brunch will agree, such is the paradox of choice, often having too many options can pose a problem… particularly, say, when picking somewhere local to while away a weekend. And so, the pursuit of finding something a little bit different becomes an all-important one, particularly for the longer-dwelling UAE sorts.
But, if the cornerstone of a good staycation is providing a sizeable departure from your everyday environment, then the Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island is in a different league altogether.
Originally established as a Royal Nature Reserve in 1971 by His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, today the 87sqkm Sir Bani Yas island exists as both luxury hotel outpost and wildlife park, offering its guest the kind of animal interaction usually reserved for expansive plains of central Africa.
And where can you find this indigenous utopia? Roughly around 250km southwest of Abu Dhabi, where a short jaunt on the ferry will transport you to one of Anantara’s three distinct island resorts, each orientated to its guests’ particular proclivities.
Immediately noticeable on arrival lies the Desert Island Resort & Spa, a towering coastal fortress styled in a more traditional hotel manner, enveloping a family-friendly approach with sea and garden-view rooms, and one and two bedroom villas, if your young tribe needs a little more space to satisfy their holiday exuberance.
Should a more private space is in order, along the island's eastern shore you’ll find the luxurious Al Yam Villas, a handful of beach-based bolt-holes with views facing either the evergreen expanse of mangroves or twinkling blue coastline, where the only likely disturbances to your unblemished vista will be a few flamingos grazing beyond.
But if your aim is the kind of wildlife immersion that would make David Attenborough envious, then the jewel in this Anantara’s crown be found in the Al Sahel villas, a wholly unique sanctuary nestled beautifully in Sir Bani Yas’ prime real estate of nature-strewn outdoors.
We were fortunate enough to bag one of Al Sahel’s pool villas for our recent visit, a charming thatched-roof hideaway adorned with wooden furnishings, coupling a discernibly African vibe with the characteristically elegant Anantara additions, including a carved bronze bathtub, rain shower, and king-size four-poster bed.
If al fresco water wallowing is more your thing (and here, we’d highly recommend it) then you’ll want to schedule a good few villa-based hours dedicated to your balcony plunge pool, staring out at what feels like your own personal savannah - awash with inquisitive gazelles and brightly plumed peacocks.
Such is the serenity, you’d be forgiven to committing solely to your digs for the duration of your stay, but with the on-site activities resolutely one of Anantara Sir Bani Yas’ biggest draws, that would be highly remiss.
Depending on your state of motivation, there is a surplus of outdoor activities to dip your toe into, from energetic island pursuits such as kayaking, land-sailing or mountain biking to the more leisurely recreations like archery, horse-riding or wadi-walking.
However, just as you wouldn’t sojourn to the Serengeti without going on safari, then the Anantara’s Nature and Wildlife Drive experience is equally unmissable. Encapsulating exactly what makes this island so special with a 4x4 game drive into the wild – where a potential 15,000 animals from 30 different species await.
As is (quite literally) the nature of these things, the best grazing sights are available early – so if you want to Instagram your way through as many Oryx, Giraffes, Ostrich and Cheetahs as possible, we’d advise booking in for the sunrise drive - an experience resolutely worth the crack of dawn call time.
Along the way, the chatty safari guides will also offer up some hefty insight about what went into creating Arabia’s largest wildlife park, ranging from its origin to the inspiring conservation program that focuses on the breeding and relocation of the on-site endangered species.
Those hankering for a dose more culture can also take part in the resort’s Culture and History tour, journeying through the island’s 42 indigenous heritage and historical sites, some of which date back to 6th Century AD. Come the end of the day - in a shared attitude to man and mammal alike - all that remains is to feast.
While Anantara has peppered numerous international dining options around the three Sir Bani Yas resorts, we found the most authentic culinary experience to be served up at the Savannah Grill & Lounge.
Set among the forestry and grasslands adjacent to the Al Saleh villas and illuminated by a central campfire, it’s a gamey smorgasbord of barbecued African-style delights, from guinea fowl and venison to Cape Malay chicken….and, in our case, a bucket load of toasted marshmallows to really complete the outdoorsy scene.
More redolent of an African safari prairie than a Middle Eastern hotel resort, Anantara’s merging of a wildlife park with a 5-star luxury environment is a hugely commendable feat. But its greatest achievement lies in the harnessing of a completely unique UAE experience that still manages to uphold all the animal conservational principles of its founding father.
Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island
Price: From AED1,135 per night*
Contact: +971 2 801 5400, website
*Price is subject to change